Analysis and comparison of vacant land resources for urban food production

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Urban growth in the 20th and 21st centuries has had, and will continue to have, two direct effects on urban food systems: greater urban populations require more food, and expanding urban footprints diminish agricultural production areas around cities. Increasing globalization, consolidation, and industrialization of the food supply have been concurrent with this urban growth, leading to a profound physical and psychological distance between urban dwellers and the sources of their food. As concerns about climate change, sustainability, and food insecurity have come to the forefront of conversations about our food system, scholars, practitioners, and policymakers have explored the extent to which cities might feed themselves. Urban agriculture can expand food access in cities, engage urban dwellers in food production, and provide a beneficial use for unused urban lots. Idle or vacant land, both publicly and privately owned, represents an important resource for urban gardeners and farmers, and potentially for their rural counterparts as well. Applying the concept of usufruct, or productively using another's unused land, could increase agricultural use of both privately and publicly owned land resources. However, little is understood about how these land resources vary according to degree of urbanization, or the degree to which they might provide land access and food relative to the needs of the local population. This research aims to gain a better understanding of how vacant land resources vary according to ownership and urbanization. Over one hundred "walking distance"-defined study sites (300-meter radius) were randomly selected in seven central Ohio counties comprising and surrounding the city of Columbus; these study sites represented a range of classified urbanization values. Within each study site, GIS-based classification was used to identify publicly and privately owned vacant land that is suitable for vegetable production, based on soil quality, slope, water access, and solar exposure. These vacant land resources were compared among urban categories and between public and private ownership. No appreciable differences were found between publicly and privately owned land in terms of parcel size, perimeter-area ratio, or quality; however, privately owned land was more prevalent, and when present, was likely to occur in greater quantities. Idle vacant land is rarest in the least urban settings, where it is likely to already be in production, and most prevalent in low- or mid-density urban contexts, whereas parcel size was found to decrease as urbanization increased. The findings of this research demonstrate that privately owned land is a significantly more prevalent land resource for urban food production than public land, suggesting that policy instruments which facilitate or incentivize usufruct agreements between private owners and urban farmers would be effective in increasing urban agriculture. The land suitability index used in this research shows that soil quality is the most significant obstacle to enabling food production in more urban areas.


Poster Division: Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences: 1st Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)


urban agriculture, foodshed analysis, land inventory, food systems, urban planning, community gardening, urban gradient